Gimme, gimme: Automakers and telecoms spar over spectrum

As self-driving cars start to find their footing on U.S. roadways, a group of telecom companies are making moves to have spectrum previously allocated to the auto industry reallocated for use in Wi-Fi. Their argument: that the auto industry hasn’t used that spectrum enough. This coming at a time when that spectrum is set to be more important than ever before.

The Federal Communications Commission allocated spectrum within the 5.9 GHz band for use by the auto industry in hopes of clearing the path for future vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Several major telecom companies are arguing that this spectrum is better used for Wi-Fi as Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) devices are not currently utilizing that spectrum as much as they believe warrants dedicated bandwidth.

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This argument was detailed in an open letter to the White House sent in late April, and co-signed by over a dozen recognizable companies including: Dell, Google, Broadcom, Qualcomm, Intel, and others.

In the letter, these companies cite the growing need for spectrum for unlicensed use by the public and that this growth is creating what they referred to as an unlicensed spectrum crisis.

Let ITS and Wi-FI share the spectrum

Their proposal? To open up that band for unlicensed usage so that both ITS and Wi-Fi signals can share the spectrum.

On May 5, a counter letter was send to the White House by more than 50 members of the Auto industry and state transportation sector stating its case for maintaining the 1999 FCC ruling. This letter states that spectrum sharing has already been taking place, and that the transportation sector has been working closely with the Wi-Fi industry to create a solution that has already been brought to several key government agencies for testing in 2016.

However, giving up that band for free unlicensed usage would, according to their statement, limit the capability of Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) systems to reduce injuries and fatalities on the roadways.

It went on to cite the fact that technologies that best utilize this band for the prevention of accidents in transportation are now just starting to come about, and opening this spectrum now would result in the setback of a decade worth of innovation.

The debate continues as to whether the auto industry is unfairly spectrum squatting or that the telecom industry moving in on that 75 megahertz of spectrum at the risk of public safety.

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